Editor’s Note: There are 16 Walks to End Alzheimer’s in Washington and Northern Idaho in 2017. Register today at alz.org/walk
By Julia Leonard
Marcia-Mongrain Finkas made a career out of helping others.
“I spent a lot of years in special education and working with youth with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities [and] behavioral issues,” said Marcia.
Marcia was one of seven children to Mary Ellen “Meg” Mongrain, a woman who accomplished a great deal and was an inspiration to her family.
“She went to college as a young woman and that was pretty impressive at the time,” said Marcia. “[She] studied Business Administration and my Dad was a physician…she helped him out in the early years of his practice. She was always involved with volunteering and always on top of political issues. She loved conversation. She was an avid reader on everything. She was just very well-educated and very knowledgeable.”
Meg’s intellect was apparent to anyone who spoke with her. Family gatherings were often filled with conversation and laughter. But then, Marcia began noticing her mother couldn’t converse the way she once could.
“It started becoming more difficult because she was having problems putting her thoughts into words and it started getting kind of garbled up,” said Marcia. Her ability to articulate started degrading. That was very frustrating for her.”
Meg’s issues with conversing, as well keeping up with current events and scheduling, were initially thought of as memory issues that come naturally with aging. In reality, Meg was living with Alzheimer’s disease.
“There are so many kids and some of my siblings were out of the state, so they don’t get to see mom as often,” said Marcia. ”When they would come to visit, mom was very engaging. She always had conversational topics to delve into that were of great interest to other people, that were of great interest to her. Some family members could see that Mom was struggling with some memory things, other family members couldn’t see it at all. So it was a constant conversation many of us would have. Some would say ‘no I think you’re wrong’ and others would say ‘you need to be looking closer, you know Mom is having some struggles.’”
The debate within the family was driven by Meg’s ability to mask symptoms of Alzheimer’s, something that also perplexed physicians who would see her.
“My mom was a very brilliant woman,” said Marcia. “She had developed some coping strategies to help her remember things and keep on top of stuff. From what I understand, talking to one of the neurologists that actually diagnosed her, he indicated people of high intelligence can mask the disease for longer because they figure out ways to cope with the digression of losing their memory. My mom was a master at that.”
“Physicians were sometimes very hesitant to give the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s…They would just say you know, ‘memory issues or maybe some issues with dementia’, but the actual diagnosis of Alzheimer’s came very late in her process. My sister and I would take her to the doctor and we would bring this up. The doctor really didn’t take us seriously. That was the frustration.”
Medical professionals can sometimes delay diagnosing Alzheimer’s. However, recognizing the disease in its early stages allows more opportunities for support for those living with Alzheimer’s and resources for loved ones and caregivers.
“I didn’t know about the Alzheimer’s Association until after my mother passed,” said Marcia. “There was no one until I saw something in the paper or on the local news about the Walk that I heard about the Alzheimer’s Association. The sharing [of] information about support systems for family members was non-existent from the medical communities. I wish I had had access to that as Mom was going through this. I didn’t realize that [support systems] existed and no one ever gave me a pamphlet, ‘here’s support systems in your area to help you with understanding Alzheimer’s.’ It just didn’t exist.”
Since finding the association, Marcia has participated in the Longview Walk to End Alzheimer’s, an event that quickly became a family affair.
“I originally called just to volunteer,” said Marcia. “But then as I told people ‘I’m going to volunteer at this walk’, family members said ‘I want to walk too’ and so I thought ‘I’ll put a team together, wasn’t planning on it but sure, let’s put a team together.’ And then there were people that joined us at the very last minute. It was awesome because of their connection with someone with Alzheimer’s, so it wasn’t someone that I personally asked, it was like someone had said ‘Oh I want to be part of that.’”
Marcia hopes the walk will to connect people to valuable resources that she didn’t have during her mother’s battle with Alzheimer’s. Marcia spent her career helping others. As a Walk participant and planning committee member, she continues to do so.
“I walk to honor my mom. We’re all looking for answers to how we can deal with this disease and a way to honor the people that are struggling with it.”
Join Marcia and thousands of Washington and Northern Idaho residents for the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Register at alz.org/walk.